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Is Bills’ Manuel primed for a breakout?

PITTSBURGH – We’re talking about practice, man.

Not a game.

But in a young quarterback’s evolution, one great workout is more meaningful than Allen Iverson’s infamous anti-practice rant would suggest.

EJ Manuel drew praise from his coach and teammates this week in Latrobe, Pa., where the Bills joined the Pittsburgh Steelers for two training-camp sessions.

Bills coach Doug Marrone called Wednesday’s practice Manuel’s most accurate. Wide receiver Mike Williams said he told Manuel that Thursday night was “the best I’ve ever seen him.”

Manuel now must bring that into a game. Not a real game, mind you, but still an important exhibition against the Steelers tonight at Heinz Field.

Last year’s first-round draft choice is the Bills’ biggest question mark entering the 2014 season. Manuel has been inconsistent throughout training camp at St. John Fisher College and discouraged many fans with his performance in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game versus the New York Giants two weeks ago, completing two of his seven passes for 19 yards, more than half coming off a Williams screen.

Manuel has rebounded since. He completed 69 percent of his throws against the Carolina Panthers last week and remained on point in Latrobe.

“I told EJ – to be honest my exact words were – this is the best I’ve ever seen him,” Williams said after Thursday night’s practice. “I don’t think he threw an incomplete pass. Everything was on time.

“We got everything we wanted. It was perfect.”

Manuel unofficially completed 17-of-23 passes and looked unafraid to throw downfield Thursday night. He would have been sacked three times, but all appeared to be offensive-line breakdowns and not because he held the ball too long.

Williams noted the Bills’ passing offense has begun to solidify because of Manuel’s progress lately.

“Coming out of our breaks, the ball is right there,” Williams said. “It’s just the best I’ve seen him. If he keeps going like this, we’re going to be something to play with.”

Because of the Hall of Fame Game, tonight is Buffalo’s third preseason exhibition and Pittsburgh’s second. To match up depth charts, Marrone likely will give his starters about the same number of snaps as they got last week against Carolina. Manuel played three healthy series, including one possession in the second quarter.

He acknowledged two impressive practices – even against another NFL team – won’t mean anything until they become common.

“That is something I want to continue to build on,” Manuel said. “Don’t let it be a one-, a two-, a three-day streak. Make it an everyday thing.

“It is a process. I am still going to continue to buy into the process.”

Buffalo’s first-team offense still is looking for its first touchdown. On five possessions, it has managed two field goals, two punts and a failed fourth-and-short run near the goal line.

Manuel conceded that scoring a touchdown before he comes out of tonight’s game is significant to him.

“I thought we did a pretty good job throwing the ball last time we played in a game,” Manuel said. “So we want to continue to carry that over.

“Not sure how much I will play, but the reps that we are in, we want to make sure we look good.”


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